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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 21:33 GMT
Mid-East religions condemn bloodshed
The destroyed Palestinian governor's headquarters in the West Bank town of Tulkarm
More than 1,000 have died since September 2000
By the BBC's Heba Saleh

Leaders from the three main religions of the Middle East have issued an unprecedented joint declaration pledging their commitment to ending violence in the region.

Signed in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, the declaration came at the end of talks chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and hosted by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Sayyed Tantawy.

The assembled Jewish rabbis, Muslim sheikhs and Christian clerics said that bloodshed must not be allowed to pollute the Holy Land.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Arafat has backed the meeting
They pledged to use their religious and moral authority to work for peace and to live together as neighbours, respecting each other's faiths.

The religious leaders also called on all parties to refrain from incitement and demonisation - and to take steps to return to negotiations.

They said they would form a permanent committee of religious leaders from Israel and the Palestinian territories, to pursue the implementation of their declaration.

But it is a measure of the sensitive situation in the Middle East that the Alexandria meeting had to be held amidst tight security and with no advance publicity.

Nonetheless, it had the backing of both the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

'No illusions'

Described as moderates, the rabbis who have come to Alexandria represent a broad cross section of Israel's religious Jews.

The Muslim delegation is considered to be close to Mr Arafat's Palestinian Authority.

No one at the Alexandria meeting had any illusions that a religious declaration would end the Middle East conflict, but the hope is that the message of tolerance will resonate in a region where political and religious hostilities are so deeply intertwined.

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